sh(OUT) – Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art

The opening of the new exhibition sh(OUT) opened tonight. I made it to the opening bash, it being my day off. (I still take a day off in Holy Week lest I make it not unto the end).

I’m pleased that GoMA and Glasgow City Countil run these social justice themed exhibitions every couple of years but had mixed feelings about this one, as indeed I had about the last which was on sectarianism. The exhibition this year runs from now until November and is on the theme of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender life. We were told that it would both celebrate and raise awareness of “LGBT people, their rights and history”. (And that language on the GoMA website immediately excludes the very people it is trying to include, presuming that everyone who reads it is straight).

If the exhibition is a success, it felt like a very patchy success. By and large the works of art representing lesbian life seemed to me much more positive than those representing gay men. There was a lovely sculpted gravestone for two women, some good photographs by and of women and a tender, erotic watercolour that was genuinely moving.

When it came to the men’s side of things, there were only a couple of pieces which really seemed to celebrate any positive images. A rather nice naive piece by Holly Johnson showing two Egyptians embracing one another was a strong positive. Otherwise the exhibition seemed to celebrate alienation rather than life. An early David Hockney was a good piece to stare at and mull over, but profoundly sad. One longed for one of Hockney’s swimming pool scenes to break the dreariness of it all.

What were presumably supposed to be shocking images from Robert Mapplethorpe did not really shock so much as raise one’s eyebrow that anyone might be so quaint as to think them obscene in a world now dominated by sexual imagery. And as for the tree-like thing in the middle of the gallery growing genitalia, it was not merely old hat, but something which one could usefully hang one’s old hat on.

The T side of things was rather splendidly represented by a modern jewelled icon by Grayson Perry – the only piece in the exhibition that I think I’d want to go back and have another look at.

Two smaller exhibition spaces appear in the galleries around the entrance atrium. One full of cartoons which probably deserve closer inspection than was possible with the crowd this evening and the other, the experience of LGBT Youth. (Or rather LGBT Youth who have managed to find a supportive group to join). This was interesting not least because the experience described was as far away from the planet I live on as Mars is from Earth.

Interestingly, I noticed on the way home a quote from Troy Perry being used to advertise the exhibition, “The Lord is my Shepherd and He knows I’m gay”. It is a quote worth reflecting on, but no attempt was made in the exhibition as presented to deal with issues surrounding LGBT people and faith. Various outreach artists are working with groups across the city, and indeed we have had an approach from someone making contact with the LGBT group at St Mary’s. However, this is an all too safe way to deal with issues that people like me care about. One came away feeling that any religious experience was perhaps being closeted and the main viewing public being distrated from anything really edgy by penis-growing trees.

Verdict – Patchy

Rating: ★★☆☆☆


  1. Elizabeth says

    Thanks for posting such a detailed review. I think I’d like to have a look at the exhibition, but will keep my eyes peeled for wayward trees.

  2. Hope London says

    Loved your review – as an artist who recently submitted a proposal to GOMA for one of the sh(OUT) projects, and someone with strong interest in faith and gender issues, I would really like to talk to you if I should be awarded the residency – odds are small but you never know!

    Many thanks,

  3. Interesting comments about the experiences of LGBT youth…As a teacher who has recently had to deal with homphobic comments made during a school easter service, I can empathise with your feelings on this. It certainly wasn’t a supportive place to be for any of our LGBT students who might have wanted to engage with the easter message supposedly embedded in the service, particularly the new commandments given by Jesus which were the centre points of this particular assembly…

    It’s good to know they would find a supportive space at St Mary’s…

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